The Pentagon is proposing to shrink the size of the military, applying a no-growth $495.6 billion budget to modernizing the force in ways that it says will enable the country to meet national security challenges in the aftermath of long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The spending plan reflects what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calls a choice to field a smaller but more modern force rather than a larger one less prepared for combat. Some in Congress, however, see that as an approach that weakens U.S. capabilities in a period of growing uncertainty in Europe and Asia.
The proposed budget -- down less than a fraction from this year's budget total -- is part of a $3.9 trillion federal budget that President Barack Obama sent to Congress Tuesday.
A smaller Army gets the headlines in the proposed spending plan, with active-duty force shrinking from 490,000 active-duty soldiers to 440,000-450,000 over the coming five years -- the smallest since 1940, prior to the buildup for World War II, when the Army had 267,000 active duty troops.
Under the president's budget, the Navy will have funds to support the current fleet of 11 carrier groups, including 288 ships. That number would rise to about 309 ships by FY 2019. The president's budget plan protects investments in attack submarines, guided missile destroyers and afloat staging bases to confront emerging threats.
The budget includes $5.9 billion for two Virginia-class attack submarines in FY 2015 and $28 billion for two submarines a year through FY 2019. Also requested is $2.8 billion in FY 2015 and $16 billion over coming years to acquire two DDG-51 guided-missile destroyers per year through FY 2019. The budget also includes a request for $1.5 billion in FY 2015 to buy three Littoral combat ships and $8.1 billion in future years to acquire 14 more.
The Navy is also requesting $3.3 billion in FY 2015 for eight joint strike fighters –- two for the Navy and six for the Marine Corps –- and $22.9 billion for 105 aircraft over six years.
The budget calls for the Navy to put 11 cruisers in long-term phased modernization, and they will be placed in reduced operating status while they are modernized. Once returned to service, the ships will have greater capability and a longer lifespan. The Navy will also re-examine its Littoral Combat Ship program.
The Navy has not made a decision which of the cruisers will be laid up. Three of those cruisers are based at Mayport Naval Station.
Mayport was also to be assigned least three Littoral Combat Ships, so there’s another potential impact to the local economy.
The Pentagon's companion document, required by Congress and called the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, was written prior to Russia's military moves on the Crimea region of Ukraine. It said that while the administration will continue shifting its focus toward the Asia-Pacific region, Europe will remain an important partner.
"Europe is home to our most stalwart and capable allies and partners, and the strategic access and support these countries provide is essential to ensuring that the U.S. armed forces are more agile, expeditionary, and responsive to global challenges," it said.
The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is scheduled to end in December. Obama has not yet decided, however, whether to authorize a non-combat mission starting in 2015 that would continue training and advising Afghan forces.
Because of the uncertainty over a U.S. military role in Afghanistan beyond this year, the Pentagon's 2015 budget includes what it called a "placeholder" sum of $79 billion for involvement in Afghanistan. The Pentagon said it would amend the budget plan once it decided on the scope of its post-2014 role in Afghanistan.
At the core of Hagel's overall plan for 2015 and beyond is the notion that after wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that proved longer and more costly than foreseen, the U.S. military will no longer be sized to conduct large and protracted ground wars. It will put more emphasis on versatile, agile forces that can project power over great distances, including in Asia.